Land Sales Contemplated As Cure For Chino Hills Open Space Encroachments

(June 7) CHINO HILLS –As the first of potentially scores of lawsuits over what the city maintains are encroachments by residents on city-owned open space is heading to trial, city officials are contemplating defusing the issue altogether by offering  to sell the strips of property in question to those residents.
Michael and Kimberly Denton sued the city in 2011 after the city’s code enforcement division informed them in 2010 that the furthest extension of their backyard was encroaching on city-owned open space and that they had to remove their pool and spa along with landscaping that was already extant when they purchased the home in 1999 from Gloria Vitagliano.
The Dentons, who live on Hunters Gate Circle, offered the city $10,000 for the property, but the city rejected that offer, instead saying it would provide them with a 15-year easement for the continued use of the property.  The Dentons then retained the firm of Gresham, Savage, Nolan and Tilden to sue the city.
The Dentons claim the city allowed the Vitagliano/Denton encroachment, which was conspicuous and open, to stand, and did nothing to interfere with Ms. Vitagliano’s or their occupation of the approximately 1,574 square feet of land for more than 15 years. Nor did the city act in a timely manner to prevent them from removing a wrought-iron fence and replacing it with a glass wall and block fence, the Dentons assert.
After attempts by the city to have the case dismissed outright, assistant city attorney Elizabeth Calciano made a motion to strike portions of the complaint. On March 11, Superior Court Judge Joseph Brisco ruled the case will go to trial September 30 with all of its causes of action intact.
The Denton case is of considerable significance in upscale Chino Hills, since it will conceivably impact about 300 other property owners in the city who are alleged to have encroached on public open space. Those encroachments include trees, shrubs and other forms of landscaping in city-claimed open space in the most benign of the cases and consist of fences, walls, pavement and structures in more serious cases.  In some instances, those improvements were undertaken by the present owners of the properties. In others, they were completed by previous owners.
A “global” solution is apparently in the works, with city officials discussing among themselves at present the viability of agreeing to sell most of the disputed encroached-upon property to the homeowners.
Next month the city will host a public meeting/workshop at which the conceptual terms of the property sales can be discussed.  If a staff report on whether there is a community consensus to move ahead with the sale/purchase solution can be formulated in a timely fashion, the council could conceivably have a program in place that could be applied to the Dentons, who have already indicated a willingness to make a purchase similar to what the city is contemplating.  The city has already paid Calciano and her colleague, city attorney Mark Hensley, more than $200,000 for legal work relating to the encroachment question and the pending Denton lawsuit.

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